Sam Winchester has had a rough go of it. Not just this season, where we’re four episodes in and he’s already been kidnapped and tied up twice already, but for pretty much the entirety of Supernatural. I’m not saying Dean hasn’t either, but this is Sam’s episode for the most part. I do still have some thoughts about Dean, but I’ll get to those in a second. “American Nightmare” is a really good episode, easily one of the better ones to take the monster-of-the-week form. There’s a lot to discuss here, so I’m going to break it down this week. Let’s start with Sam.
The Sam Winchester School of Young Gifted Psychics
Remember when Sam used to be psychic? Supernatural has been on so long that I sometimes forget Sam’s psychic powers played a major role for a good part of seasons 1-5. The absence of his powers makes sense with the death of Azazel, the one who gave him the powers, and the biblical apocalypse over and done with. But I love that this episode can still bring back that part of Sam in a way that shows major character growth for him while still maintaining who Sam has always been — a very empathetic person who always sees the best in people.
Sam’s conversation with Magda reminded me a lot of Sam’s conversation with Max Miller, all the way back in the season 1 episode “Nightmare,” curiously, also an episode where Dean and Sam dressed up as priests. In “Nightmare,” Sam tries to get through to Max in an effort to get Max to stop killing his family. But Sam’s pleas are clouded by a desperation to understand his own psychic abilities, especially after he realizes the connection him and Max share with the yellow-eyed demon. But in “American Nightmare,” roughly 12 years after his conversation with Max, Sam understands himself more, and is therefore able to help Magda with her psychic abilities. Look at what he says to Magda after she explains how her effort to reach out for help through her psychic abilities ended up killing two people.
Magda: Mother says I killed them.
Sam: Magda, that wasn’t your fault. You are not the Devil. You’re not evil. And it’s scary. I-I know it’s scary. But you can learn how to control it. You don’t ever have to hurt anyone ever again.
Sam’s talking from experience this time around, and it’s good to hear him acknowledge that one can be forgiven for mistakes they have made. Sam let his psychic abilities get out of control during seasons four and five, but a large part of that wasn’t his fault, and I don’t know that the show has ever really let Sam voice his thoughts on the situation. A lot of time when Ruby comes up, it’s usually always Dean mentioning her and it always sounds like Sam is still on the hook for it. But here, through helping Magda with her abilities, Sam finally has a sounding board through which to voice his thoughts on his own actions, in not so many terms at least. Listen, a lot of this is in subtext. Sam doesn’t come right out and explain his entire situation to Magda, but his insistence that Magda isn’t evil just because of her psychic abilities is coming from somewhere in Sam’s own experiences, especially considering it was Sam’s abilities that eventually allowed him to become the Devil’s vessel. I love that we get this acknowledgement from Sam, and I love that he is able to get through to Magda in a way he couldn’t with Max.
Shoot First, Ask Questions Later — the Dean Winchester Way of Hunting
I’ve got to be a little hard on Dean, and it’s only because he’s such an interesting character whose own character development seems to go back and forth depending on what kind of emotional fallout he’s dealing with this time around. And this time, it’s a big one — Mary leaving. He’s having a hard time with her choosing to leave, and his emotions get the better of him during this hunt when the brothers are confronted with Child Protective Services. This was a little heavy-handed for me. Dean has beef with CPS because they separate families! Get it? It also doesn’t help that one of the CPS agents is a Wiccan, and we all know how Dean feels about witches and Wiccan. So, with very little evidence that Beth is the killer, Dean decides he’s going to go shoot her.
Okay, so Dean doesn’t shoot her once he figures out she isn’t the killer, but he comes very close to it. He still has some learning to do about controlling those emotions, but Dean’s role here is meant to foil what comes at the end of “American Nightmare.”
The British Men of Letters Have Their Own Assassin, Which Kind of Isn’t Fair
Because Dean is learning that not all supernatural creatures are evil. It used to be that if something was supernatural, Dean would kill it, no questions asked. There was Lenore’s vampire clan of vegetarians back in season two and Amy from season seven, and those are only the ones I can think of right now. Dean even does the Dean thing and asks Sam if it was right to let Magda go since she killed two people. When Sam says it wasn’t her fault, Dean lets it go. He’s done this before, in season eight with Kate, in that odd found footage episode with the werewolves. But the brother’s decision to let Kate go comes back to bite them (oh, you know that was intended) in the end. It would have been nice to see this one turn out okay, for Magda’s own sake and for the Winchesters. But it is looking like the British Men of Letters’ way of doing things is going to contrast with the Winchesters when that assassin Mick dispatched at the end of “Mamma Mia” kills Magda in effort to clean up the Winchesters’ “mess.” To the BMOL, Magda represented something supernatural, and so she was killed for it.
This sucks. Magda could have been a cool new character that came back for a later episode to help the Winchesters with something. I hope this isn’t how all these episodes will go, where potential new characters get killed off for the sake of literary parallels between the Winchesters and the BMOL.
That Personal Element to Season 12 Is Doing Wonders for Hunt Justification
There were multiple episodes last season that started with the same conversation: “Hey, I found something!” “Does it have to do with Amara?” “No, but we really need to clear our heads and get out of here!” And that’s how monster-of-the-week episodes happened last season.
But season 12 isn’t playing that Heaven/Hell apocalypse game anymore, and “American Nightmare” just jumps right into Sam and Dean strolling into that church as priests. I like this way of starting episodes. It’s a small thing, but we don’t really need a thirty-second scene of Sam reading about a death on the internet and then the two discussing on if they should go check it out or not. They should just be expected to be there investigating.